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"Shoeing for Winter Driving"
by Lyle Petersen

Most horses, like most people, know "Jingle Bells" only as a song on the radio. But for horses who live in warm climates and those whose owners are especially intrepid, winter may only signal a slowdown in driving activity rather than a protracted vacation. In either case, there may be new issues to deal with, primarily traction and snow.

The ideal surface for sleighing is not the pretty, pristine snow, but hard-packed snow. Did you know that in the pre-motor days snow-covered roads were packed with a roller so that sleighs and sleds could be pulled more easily? And a variety of methods were used to give horses the traction they needed. Most of these methods, such as sharpened calks and tarred rope, are now museum curiosities. Modern farriery gives much more satisfactory solutions to the traction problem.

The traction enhancement needed for packed snow, frozen dirt, and ice is not greatly different from that needed on pavement. While it is generally agreed that the hoof should slide slightly when landing, the primary concern on these hard surfaces is safety -- whatever it takes to keep the horse from falling or doing a "split". We purposely aim to err on the side of caution.

For hard surfaces, this writer generally prefers the use of small drive-in studs (specifically the Mustad P13) which look much like those formerly used in some snow tires. They have a tungsten carbide core which grips on any surface, and they are unobtrusive and present minimal safety risk from horses stepping or kicking. More aggressive studs are available, but except on packed snow they provide no additional benefit. I use one stud in each heel, but some prefer to add two at the toe quarters. On hills, this might be desirable.

A widely-used alternative is borium or Drill-Tek. Borium is a steel rod in which crystals of tungsten carbide are encased, and Drill-Tek is the same, except that the rod is brass. Borium must be applied with a torch, Drill-Tek can be applied in a forge. Both come in a variety of grit sizes, with the coarsest grit giving the most aggressive traction. Application can range from very sparing to "gobs and gobs", and from artistic to sloppy. My favorite all-purpose traction device is a rim shoe with a small amount of Drill-Tek applied at the toe and each heel. When the brass melts, I tap the Drill-Tek down into the crease of the shoe and smooth it approximately level with the ground surface of the shoe. This arrangement gives the advantage of traction from the rim shoe on soft surfaces and traction from the Drill-Tek on hard surfaces.

Snow is an additional factor at some times and places, and while properly trimmed barefoot horses have little or no problem with snow build-up in hooves, horses that must be shod for traction or for protection from rough frozen ground will invariably get "snowball feet" unless you take additional measures. For the short term, application of greases or oils to the sole of the hoof may help, but there are alternatives that are overall more satisfactory.

There are two basic varieties of "snowball pads" that can be nailed between the shoe and the hoof. One has a raised dome in the middle, facing the ground, that flexes and pops out the snow that tries to pack under the shoe. The challenge when using this style of pad is to keep snow or mud from getting between the pad and the hoof. If this happens, the horse ends up walking on an ice ball. Different types of packing material can be used between pad and hoof, but too much or the wrong kind will make the dome of the pad less flexible and less effective. One alternative is to double-pad, using a thin flat pad next to the hoof, then the snowball pad, then the shoe. Then any of the usual packing materials can be used.

The other variety of snowball pad is a rim pad with a hollow tubular side which follows the inside of the shoe. The tube is slightly larger in diameter than the thickness of the shoe, so the tube flexes each time the hoof lands, and keeps snow from packing inside the shoe. Abrasive surfaces can shorten the life of this style of pad, but new plastic materials have improved its durability. Your farrier may have a preference based on experience in your area.

I will mention in passing some of the other traction and protection methods that can be used: Ice nails, Dura-trac nails, EasyBoots, rubber and neoprene shoes. Each of these can have a place, but I consider them to be short-term or special-case solutions.

In any and all cases, when we ask our horses to pull carriages and sleighs, we are asking them for more than nature intended them to do, and we owe it to them to give them whatever help we can to do the job comfortably and safely.

About Lyle Petersen:
"I have been playing with horses for over 30 years, my wife Barbara and I raised Arabians for quite a few years, then a few warmbloods, then quit breeding horses and just continued with our boarding operation. Started driving in 1983 after an unanticipated opportunity for a driving lesson with Phil Dubois. Bought an antique buggy and Amish harness and just started from there. Since then there have been several generations of carriages and harnesses, and currently I drive a pair consisting of a 19 year old QH mare and an 11 year old TB gelding.

I started shoeing my times by yet another disappearing farrier. After being liberated from salaried employment in 1993 (I used to wear a necktie every day and sit at a desk with a computer, etc.) I decided to become self-employed, and shoeing seemed a viable choice. I attended a shoeing school and learned how badly I had been doing on my own, then returned home and started out on my own.

I have been shoeing for a living ever since, first in Nebraska, then for three years in Tennessee, and now back in Nebraska. I have shod 10 hand ponies and 19 hand draft horses, pleasure horses and race horses, and almost everything in between. Given that my own horses are used almost exclusively for carriage driving, I have a strong interest in what works best for this."

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